What influenced your decision to become a chef?
I believe it started when I was young, I watched and help my mother often. She made everything; cake, cookies and I would say nearly every night she made dessert. The other memory that comes to mind was my aunty gave me a toy for Christmas, "Fred" from Home Pride, an English flour company. It was a man with a top hat, the hat was a sieve and head was the bowl and he held a spoon and rolling pin. He came with a recipe book and I cooked most days from the book and knew from a young age school was not for me and cooking was. Only a few years ago I purchased again my vintage English toy for my kitchen bench.
Your first kitchen job?
In a small country town. I had all the standard jobs of peeling vegetables and washing dishes.
What restaurants did you do your apprenticeship at and what made you think it was for you?
I was offered my apprentice at International Hotel in Canberra when I was16. At the hotel they had a bistro, restaurant, breakfast and functions so I was able to learn all aspects of cooking.
I have travelled the world, made Newcastle my home and worked very hard from having nothing when we started the bistro to having our own restaurant and pub and catering business.Jacqueline Brown
In 2005 you won the Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef Award. Where were you working then and what were your goals?
I was working at the time at Sean’s Panaroma as sous chef to Sean. It is funny, I was doing some spring cleaning and found the article from the Sydney Morning Herald that was printed just after receiving the Josephine Pignolet award. I said what my goals for the future were: “I have a vision for the future of a 50- to 60-seater with Italian influences, lots of seasonal produce and not too expensive. I don't want anything too fancy, just a nice relaxing place where people can come in and enjoy good food."
You’ve worked at top venues including Sean’s Panorama (Sydney) and River Café (London) and met your chef husband at Quay. What made you return to Newcastle to start your own venues?
I always felt Sydney was my home and didn’t ever want to leave. But working overseas for two to three years I was persuaded by my husband Tom to move to Newcastle (his hometown). After visiting Newcastle for five days I felt the local people I met were so friendly so welcoming. We made the decision to buy our first house here and call it home.
You’ve run a bowlo bistro, a few versions of Sprout (now upstairs at your pub The Crown & Anchor). What has been the most challenging aspect of running venues?
I have always enjoyed a challenge! But the most challenging aspects that have affected me over the years would be the skilled staff shortage in the industry. Online reviews have challenged me as a business owner and even sometimes personally. In an industry where you work hard and long hours things don’t always go right and it is hard to accept guests don’t say anything at the time but can let loose online. It has made me question sometimes why I do what I do. The city in itself has been challenging over the past two years with all the disruption in town.
Most rewarding aspect?
For myself it is I have travelled the world, made Newcastle my home and worked very hard from having nothing when we started the bistro to having our own restaurant and pub and catering business. But not forgetting my beautiful family!
Food trends and venues come and go. What’s the secret to lasting in a notoriously tough industry?
I have always believed in cooking fresh seasonal produce and good price point.
You have the contract to cater for weddings and functions at Tocal Homestead. What does your average weekend entail?
My life most of the time never seems to stop. The weekend they are the busiest time. Wedding season we would have weddings Friday and Saturday at Tocal and sometimes Sundays. But this is just part of the weekend as we also caterer wedding and parties anywhere and most Saturday we have three to five weddings on one day.
How hard is it to keep healthy when, particularly as an apprentice, you are so under the pump?
For an apprentice it is a very big life change to go from Monday to Friday school days to working weekend and nights. I don't know if a lot of young staff these days are prepared for it; the kitchen is a very physical job. You are on your feet all day, hot and busy. There is no sitting down, it's just go, go, go. It is an industry where you really need to spend time out of work de-stressing.
How would you describe Newcastle’s food scene?
It has evolved so much over the past 10 years and I am looking forward to the east end project and the whole vision of Newcastle city coming together.
What do you think it needs more or less of?
Maybe just one more cafe in Broadmeadow! I will be opening one soon.
Your Last Supper?
Sitting in the hills of Sardinia eating fresh pasta and salad and bottles of Italian wine!